Vulval Cancer is a rare type of cancer that affects a woman’s external genitals. It includes:
- the lips surrounding the vagina (labia minora and labia majora)
- the clitoris, the sexual organ that helps women reach sexual climax
- the Bartholin’s glands, 2 small glands each side of the vagina
Most of those affected by vulval cancer are older women over the age of 65. The condition is rare in women under 50 who have not yet gone through the menopause.
Symptoms of Vulval Cancer
Symptoms of vulval cancer can include:
- a persistent itch in the vulva
- pain, soreness or tenderness in the vulva
- raised and thickened patches of skin that can be red, white or dark
- a lump or wart-like growth on the vulva
- bleeding from the vulva or blood-stained vaginal discharge between periods
- an open sore in the vulva
- a burning pain when passing urine
- a mole on the vulva that changes shape or colour
Women are informed that if you notice any changes in the usual appearance of your vulva you should see your GP.
Delay to Diagnosis of Vulval Cancer
For over a year Mrs B was attending various appointments with her GP and the colposcopy clinic. She complained of a sore area of her vulva and experienced pain to the extent that she could not tolerate a speculum or intercourse. Despite this she was not referred to a gynaecologist for over a year. When she was eventually referred to a gynaecologist she was diagnosed with vulval cancer.
Due to the delay in diagnosis, Mrs B was advised to undergo a radical vulvectomy rather than a simple removal of the lesion. She suffered disabling lymphoedema and lost all sexual function at a young age. She had radiotherapy, where radiation is used to destroy cancer cells. Some women need chemotherapy, where medicine is used to kill cancer cells. Some women need both.
Radiotherapy and chemotherapy may be used without surgery if you’re not well enough to have an operation, or if the cancer has spread and it’s not possible to remove it all. Generally, the earlier the cancer is detected and the younger you are, the better the chances of treatment being successful. Overall, around 7 in every 10 women diagnosed with vulval cancer will survive at least 5 years. But even after successful treatment, the cancer can come back. You’ll need regular follow-up appointments so your doctor can check if this is happening.